Expats are worried these days. Beijing began a 100-day crackdown on the “3 illegals’’ last month. Although the drive is limited to the capital, the backdrop to it has disturbing implications for the entire country.
The “3 illegals’’ refer to foreigners who are in China without visas, those who’ve overstayed their visas, or those who are working without work permits. However, even those who have all their documents in place have suddenly woken up to the requirement of registering with the nearest police station. This requirement is normally not taken too seriously — till a summons comes out of the blue from the local cops. Foreigners in Beijing must carry their passports on them all the time. Expats are hoping this rule doesn’t become universal, given the high incidence of pickpockets in most cities.
Two shocking incidents of misconduct by foreigners last month, caught on camera and posted on the internet, have led to this crackdown against foreigners, although the authorities deny any link. The first was an incident involving a drunk Briton. The concerned video shows a Chinese girl lying on the road in a state of undress, crying that she doesn’t know the man, who stands over her. She walks away sobbing as passers-by intervene. A few bash him up, even after he lies prone on the road, while others try to stop them from doing so. The man is now under arrest.
The second incident is more shocking, because it captures the entire interaction between the two parties. A foreigner in a train rests his feet on the headrest of the seat in front of him. When the Chinese passenger on that seat objects, he laughs, refuses to take them off her seat, and carries on mocking her and abusing her in Mandarin as she hits his feet with a magazine. When the train staff land up, he identifies himself as a Russian cellist with the Beijing Symphony Orchestra, and denies having abused the woman. The Orchestra has fired the cellist, even though he apologized for the incident on the internet — in Russian, not Mandarin.
These two incidents provoked Yang Rui, a controversial CCTV host, to rant against “foreign trash” on his blog. “People who can’t find jobs in the US and Europe come to China to grab our money, engage in human trafficking and spread deceitful lies to encourage emigration. Foreign spies seek out Chinese girls to mask their espionage and pretend to be tourists,’’ he railed. He was not entirely wrong. Many expats frankly admit that they have no jobs to go back to; many come knowing that being “native English speakers’’, they will find jobs as English teachers, whether they are trained to teach or not. Working on a tourist visa is common; finding Chinese girlfriends is easy; and most expats run down China constantly.
Although not all his followers supported Yang’s extreme views, the two incidents have infuriated most Chinese. Beijing authorities have asked locals to inform on illegal foreigners; it wouldn’t surprise anyone if they are flooded with information.
However, on the streets, little’s changed. This diarist has noticed Chinese schoolgirls in buses trying to stand close to handsome young foreigners. Many romances between locals and foreigners begin with Chinese girls chatting up the latter on buses or while shopping on the streets. And although many locals patronize the ‘bar streets’ that can be found in most metros, the Chinese waitresses in these bars make it a point to flirt with only the foreigners.
What if an inadvertent move in a crowded bus or in the metro by a foreigner is misinterpreted in the new atmosphere? What if normal boisterous behaviour on ‘bar streets’ is suddenly objected to?